Have you ever eaten an orange and wondered if you could grow the seeds? The short answer is yes, rather easily actually… I have been doing it for a while now with excellent results! This post is meant to explain some of the methods of propagating citrus trees used in commercial orchards, as well as a fun way to grow your own citrus trees at home as house plants.
I am always looking for new and different indoor gardening projects I can pass the cold winter weeks with, I even have a mango tree growing from a super tasty ‘Golden” mango I ate last spring. A few winters back, I was eating a Meyer lemon that was absolutely full of seeds, each seed sent up 5 or 6 sprouts.
I have had several different types of citrus trees in the past but they were purchased in a green house and were quite expensive. I did some research on the internet, and was quite disappointed with the tiny amount of information that is available on starting citrus trees from seed.
Naturally, commercial citrus growers need to ensure the best possible crop, and want to make sure all their trees are of the same high quality. To do this, each new tree they plant is grown, or propagated, not from a seed, but by grafting or budding. In most citrus trees, the scion, or top of the tree, is a different variety from the roots or rootstock of the tree. Citrus growers plant trees whose tops will grow “Washington” navel oranges, or “Eureka” lemons on a rootstock that has special characteristics like disease resistance, quick to bear fruit or restricting tree size for easier harvesting.
Trees that are grown from seed may never produce edible fruit, but they make great houseplants, and are a great way to cure the winter gardening itch. The foliage of citrus trees have a scent similar to the fruit it produces, a gentle rub between your fingers will release the oils and brighten up a cold winter day. The smell of a citrus tree in bloom is a scent that can’t be matched, even when they were in my backyard I could often smell them from 10′ away… Indoors the entire house will smell like sweet citrus nectar – not sure how else to describe it…
A number of citrus trees will come true from seed. There is a way that you can tell by examining a few seeds from the fruit. Peel off the outer and inner seed coat, it the seed is polyembryonic, i.e. has many embryos, it will come true. When you open the seed you will see that the various embryos will be convoluted upon each other. If it is mono-embryonic there will be one embryo with two distinct cotyledons. Almost any sweet orange will come true from seed, as well as key limes, grapefruit, tangerine and tangelo. Two varieties that will not come true from seed are “Temple” and “Pomelo”.
I find germinating the seed is actually the easiest part of growing citrus trees, my method is rather straight forward. I start by cutting open the fruit in a way as to not damage the seeds inside. Wash the seeds off and place them on a towel. I like to use a medical scalpel, but any razor blade will work, cut the seed at the tip being careful not to damage the fragile contents.
Once you have removed the tough exterior shell of the seed there will be a thin membrane covering the cotyledon that will still need removed. This layer reminds me of the thin covering around a peanut in its shell. Carefully remove this coating using your knife, being extremely careful not to damage the cotyledon, sometimes you can simply rub this layer off with your fingers… Just remember to be careful not to damage “ANY” part of the seed…
I prefer to use peat pellets, but any growing medium will work. Plant the peeled seeds knobby side down 1/2″ – 1″ deep, if its cold, provide supplemental heat to the growing medium and cover them with something to create a greenhouse. Germination seems to take anywhere from 5 days, to several weeks, after a few weeks, the seeds have probably rotted and should be discarded. I have had an 80% germination rate using this method, plant only the biggest, juiciest seeds in the fruit, and maintain a consistent level of moisture.
Once the seeds germinate, remove any cover and move the seedling to a light source. After the first true leaf appears, re-pot the plant into a larger container. Let the tree dry out between watering, and feed once every 6 months with a high acidity fertilizer. If you live in the north, citrus fertilizer is rarely available so substitute with azalea/rhododendron fertilizer.
I should mention that citrus trees grown from seed can take 10+ years to bear fruit, and longer indoors. But when you live in a part of the world with cold winters… And don’t own a heated greenhouse… Than you really just grow citrus for the fun of it… And occasionally if you do everything right… Maybe you will get enough fruit for an adult beverage or two…
peace – chriscondello
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